Greenhouses And The Protected Culture Continuum

Greenhouses And The Protected Culture Continuum

Greenhouses are just one step in the continuum for protected cultivation. They just so happen to be at the top of the heap.

Let’s back up a bit.

Crops have been grown outside for thousands of years (perhaps 10,000 years, beginning in the Fertile Crescent, according to theories). But growing outside includes exposure to whatever perils nature throws at the field — torrential rains, parching droughts, scorching heat, and frigid cold, to name just a few Therefore, the concept of trying to protect the crop from some of the most extreme weather fluctuations was conceived.

Protected agriculture has many applications. However, the primary purpose is economic. If a producer can extend the growing season, even just a little earlier or a little later, the value
of the crop goes up.

The grower with the earliest tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, etc. is the one who rakes in the big bucks in those extra weeks of harvest. Likewise with end of season, and harvesting after the competition’s crops have bitten the frozen dust and turned to mush.

Check Out Your Options

We have a whole continuum of options for protecting our crops. Each allows the grower to shield the crop to some extent from extremes in temperature, light, or water, and perhaps offer some protection from insects, diseases, weeds, and air pollutants, as well.

Note that as we move up the ladder and get better protection, the cost of the materials and/or structure goes up sharply. However, the point of this article is that the returns go up even faster.

At the bottom end, mulching the crop is well-known to help with early season warming of the soil, resulting in faster growth of young transplants in early spring, and an earlier first harvest. The most common implementation is black polyethylene mulch, and we can see miles of these 3- to 5-foot-wide plastic ribbons on fields all over the world. It’s cheap, it works, and it brings in the early harvest premium.

Next, row covers, either supported with hoops or floating over the crop, give one more layer of protection. These can be used with or without mulch underneath, but the combination has been clearly shown to increase the benefits of either system alone. These are used worldwide, just like mulch.

Tall Tunnels

The third step would be high tunnels. These are tall enough to walk inside of, and sure look a lot like greenhouses. But they have no utilities, which means no fans, no heat, and no lights.

Sometimes referred to as the “poor man’s greenhouse,” they have found a growing niche with vegetable growers in the U.S. and many other countries. These inexpensive structures can be used for extra-early or extra-late season vegetable, fruit, or flower production. They give more protection than mulch or row covers, and even longer periods of harvest, with resulting better returns. We are seeing more and more of these around the country.

And of course the fourth and top step of the ladder is the bona fide greenhouse. Complete with a heating system, some type of active or passive ventilation, automated fertigation, and often shade cloth and horizontal air flow fans, they provide the best chance for making the environment optimum for vegetable production.

The season extension capabilities are so good that in many parts of the country they are used year-round. This is the Cadillac of protected culture, costs far more than the other systems, but helps producers grow the highest value crops when they cannot be grown outside in the same area. Locally grown vegetables in the winter — that’s what it’s all about.

Back in the Fertile Crescent days, early forms of wheat, barley, flax, peas, lentils, vetch, and chickpeas were the main crops planted in the field. Although important crops even today, compared to modern day horticultural crops, these are very low value on a per acre basis. They are not suitable for greenhouses, row covers, or even mulch.

As you go up the protected culture ladder, the value of the crops selected should go up as well. Vegetable crops are a perfect choice for every rung — their value can be magnified with each step of the continuum. Which season extender will you use next season?

Leave a Reply

Featured Stories
Crop ProtectionAt Paramount Farming, Mating Disruption Pays Off
February 10, 2015
To say Brad Higbee is an expert in mating disruption, the use of pheromones to confuse target pests and reduce Read More
Crop ProtectionGrower Experienced In Biocontrols Says: Be Patient
February 4, 2015
The use of biocontrols in all aspects of agriculture is becoming more widespread. But incorporating biocontrols in a vegetable farming Read More
PotatoesAn Education On Potatoes [Opinion]
March 5, 2015
What is often a no-brainer for someone entrenched in the business of agriculture has to be explained — in detail — to some industry outsiders. Case in point: look at the rollercoaster ride potatoes have been on for several years. Read More
Insect & Disease Update#CitrusMatters Campaign Aims To Raise Awareness Of HLB In California
March 5, 2015
Bayer CropScience pledges up to $25,000 in support of continued research on a cure for citrus greening. Read More
CitrusNew Marvel Comic Book Reveals Origin Of Captain Citrus
March 5, 2015
Second installment of the Avengers Assemble series sets the stage for a new hero to save an orange grove under attack. Read More
FertilizerValent BioSciences Acquires Mycorrhizal Applications Inc.
March 4, 2015
Transaction fueled by technology platform that promises to bolster biorational business. Read More
EquipmentVegetable Growers Highlight Success With Precision Ag Technology
March 4, 2015
From prescriptive applications of water and fertilizers to seeders, precision technology has a place in any size operation. Read More
FruitsWeed Identification Guide Now Available For Growers
March 4, 2015
New free guide from Ohio State University offers high-definition pictures to help growers identify weeds. Read More
Crop ProtectionSurvey Shows Growers Seek New Strategies To Control Thrips And Other Major Pests
March 4, 2015
Growers surveyed at the 2015 Southeast Regional Fruit And Vegetable Conference list thrips as major pest concern, and are looking for new technologies to combat pests. Read More
Sweet CornAbbott & Cobb Sweet On New Sweet Corn Technology
March 3, 2015
SuperSeedWare gene type to aid varieties through marker-assisted selection. Read More
FruitsWest Coast Ports To Open With New Contract
March 3, 2015
Western fruit, vegetable industries lost millions when unable to export produce at ports. Read More
FruitsWorkshop Set In Florida To Help Grow Local Food Movement
March 2, 2015
Meeting part of nationwide effort to train people how to attain grants for USDA’s Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion programs. Read More
The Latest
PotatoesAn Education On Potatoes [Opinion]
March 5, 2015
What is often a no-brainer for someone entrenched in the business of agriculture has to be explained — in detail — to some industry outsiders. Case in point: look at the rollercoaster ride potatoes have been on for several years. Read More
Insect & Disease Update#CitrusMatters Campaign Aims To Raise Awareness Of HLB …
March 5, 2015
Bayer CropScience pledges up to $25,000 in support of continued research on a cure for citrus greening. Read More
CitrusNew Marvel Comic Book Reveals Origin Of Captain Citrus
March 5, 2015
Second installment of the Avengers Assemble series sets the stage for a new hero to save an orange grove under attack. Read More
FertilizerValent BioSciences Acquires Mycorrhizal Applications In…
March 4, 2015
Transaction fueled by technology platform that promises to bolster biorational business. Read More
EquipmentVegetable Growers Highlight Success With Precision Ag T…
March 4, 2015
From prescriptive applications of water and fertilizers to seeders, precision technology has a place in any size operation. Read More
FruitsWeed Identification Guide Now Available For Growers
March 4, 2015
New free guide from Ohio State University offers high-definition pictures to help growers identify weeds. Read More
Crop ProtectionSurvey Shows Growers Seek New Strategies To Control Thr…
March 4, 2015
Growers surveyed at the 2015 Southeast Regional Fruit And Vegetable Conference list thrips as major pest concern, and are looking for new technologies to combat pests. Read More
Sweet CornAbbott & Cobb Sweet On New Sweet Corn Technology
March 3, 2015
SuperSeedWare gene type to aid varieties through marker-assisted selection. Read More
FruitsWest Coast Ports To Open With New Contract
March 3, 2015
Western fruit, vegetable industries lost millions when unable to export produce at ports. Read More
FruitsWorkshop Set In Florida To Help Grow Local Food Movemen…
March 2, 2015
Meeting part of nationwide effort to train people how to attain grants for USDA’s Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion programs. Read More
Citrus18 Must-Have Apps For GenNext Growers
March 1, 2015
We asked about your favorite mobile applications, and here's what you had to say. Read More
Florida Ag ExpoGrowers Get The Lowdown On Cooling Crops
March 1, 2015
Demonstration shows how hydrocooling can help get the most out of fruits and vegetables once harvested. Read More
FruitsDon’t Be Afraid To Charge More For Value Of Agrit…
February 28, 2015
A higher admission price helps to sets a level of expectation and helps offset the costs of running a successful farm marketing operation. Read More
Apples & PearsCompany Responsible For First GMO Apples Is Sold
February 27, 2015
Okanagan Specialty Fruits, the company behind the world's first non-browning apples, fetches $41 million. Read More
Stone FruitPeach Training Systems Aren’t One-Size-Fits-All
February 27, 2015
Although pedestrian, ladderless orchards are increasing in California, growers in Pennsylvania are opting for tall V-training systems. Read More
FruitsNo Federal Water For California’s Central Valley Grower…
February 27, 2015
Skimpy snowpack leads Bureau of Reclamation to make unprecedented announcement that there will be a zero initial allocation for the second year in a row. Read More
Apples & PearsThe Recession That Keeps On Taking
February 27, 2015
We’re still seeing the aftermath of the Great Recession on consumers’ purchasing habits seven years later. Read More
Grower Achievement AwardSubmit Your Nomination For The 2015 Grower Achievement …
February 27, 2015
American Vegetable Grower magazine's annual award is designed to recognize an innovative operation that represents the spirit of excellence. Read More